Los Angeles Times: The United States has launched a major push to isolate Iran diplomatically and force Tehran to face U.N. Security Council sanctions if it refuses to give up its efforts to develop its own nuclear technology, senior U.S. officials said Tuesday. Los Angeles Times
At fringes of summit, Bush leads American push to force Tehran to drop nuclear program or face sanctions.
By Tyler Marshall, Times Staff Writer
NEW YORK The United States has launched a major push to isolate Iran diplomatically and force Tehran to face U.N. Security Council sanctions if it refuses to give up its efforts to develop its own nuclear technology, senior U.S. officials said Tuesday.
But experts tracking Iran’s nuclear quest believe that the effort may be too little, too late.
Led by President Bush, the U.S. is pressing its case this week on the fringes of the meeting of the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, where as many as 150 presidents and prime ministers are gathering to mark the 60th anniversary of the world body.
Bush lobbied Chinese President Hu Jintao on the Iran issue during an hourlong meeting Tuesday afternoon and, at a White House news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani just before departing for New York, Bush said he intended to raise the matter again Friday, when he is to meet with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.
At its heart, the dispute centers on Iran’s right to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium technologies that can be used to make fuel for nuclear power plants, or nuclear weapons.
Tehran insists that it is legally permitted to develop those technologies for peaceful purposes under terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but the United States and other countries believe Iran wants to use them to build nuclear weapons.
“Some of us are wondering why they need civilian nuclear power anyway. They’re awash with hydrocarbons,” Bush said in Washington. “Nevertheless, it’s a right of a government to want to have a civilian nuclear program.”
But he added that Iran should not be allowed to gain the technical skill that would enable it to make weapons.
“This is a subject of grave concern, and it’s something that we’re spending a lot of time on in this administration,” Bush said. “It is very important for the world to understand that Iran with a nuclear weapon will be incredibly destabilizing.”
R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of State for political affairs, called Iran “probably the most important issue discussed on the margins” of the General Assembly session.
The Bush administration’s diplomatic push comes amid what political analysts describe as a significant mood shift in Tehran after the surprise election in June of the country’s conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Shortly before Ahmadinejad officially took office last month, Iran announced that it would end the freeze on nuclear development activities that it had agreed to in November during negotiations with Britain, France and Germany, a group known as the EU-3. Talks with the Europeans on a package of economic, political and security incentives Tehran would receive in return for giving up its nuclear ambitions have been stalled since, and some experts believe that the new government has lost interest in pursuing the matter.
Bush, who worked hard to isolate Iran during his first term and initially opposed the European Union initiative, this year decided to back the talks.
Ray Takeyh, an Iran specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the noticeable lack of enthusiasm in Tehran reflected an assessment by Ahmadinejad’s government that the talks were a mistake. He described that conclusion as part of a larger reorientation of Iran’s foreign policy priorities based on the belief that the nation’s future is best guaranteed by cementing ties with nations to the east, including India, Japan and China, not the West.
“These new relationships imply that concessions to the EU are no longer needed,” Takeyh said.
The new American diplomatic push includes the 35 countries that sit on the governing board of the U.N.’s nuclear monitoring organization, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
The board is scheduled to meet Monday, and the U.S. could try to immediately force a vote to send the Iranian case to the Security Council for consideration of sanctions, although American officials indicated that remained uncertain.
“The strategy is clear, but the tactical question is when you actually bring this to the Security Council, and no one’s actually decided that yet,” said a senior State Department official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of his remarks.
“It’s likely we’ll see a series of steps over the next couple of months designed to bring Iran back into compliance” with its pledges to the Europeans, the official added.
Last month, all 35 nations urged Iran to reinstate its nuclear freeze and return to the talks. But it would be tough for the United States to muster enough support on the IAEA board to refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council if Iran refuses to return to the negotiations, analysts believe.
Speaking after Tuesday’s Bush-Hu meeting, White House officials said China’s president had agreed to intensify his country’s efforts to help curb nuclear development in both Iran and North Korea.
Mike Green, senior director for Asia affairs for the National Security Council, said Hu promised to prod Iran to abide by its obligations to the IAEA and reach some kind of accommodation with the Europeans.
Iran also has been active diplomatically, lobbying foreign capitals with its own message that the U.S. is attempting to impose a double standard on the world by denying developing countries access to the same nuclear technology Western countries exploit for the betterment of their own societies.
Ahmadinejad is expected to press that point when he addresses the General Assembly today, shortly after Bush speaks there.
Gaining support from China, Russia and India is especially important if the U.S. is to succeed in either coaxing Tehran back to negotiations or in pressing for sanctions. Aside from being members of the IAEA board, China and Russia could use their veto power on the Security Council to stop any move against Iran that they don’t support.
China, which views Iran as an important energy supplier, has already said it would not support sanctions against Tehran. Russia has already won $800 million worth of work at Iran’s first nuclear power plant at Bushehr and would be reluctant to take any action that might exclude it from possible contracts if Iran decided to build other plants.
“The EU and the U.S. are starting to become energized, but it may be a little late,” Takeyh said.
Times staff writers Warren Vieth in New York and Alissa J. Rubin in Vienna contributed to this report.